COLLEGE PARK, Md.– The opportunity to sing in a choir with no prior auditions or rehearsals and no long-term commitment lies right outside of the University of Maryland campus at MilkBoy ArtHouse.
A little more than 25 people gathered in the all-in-one restaurant, bar and performance venue Tuesday night to sing “Hallelujah” together. Local musicians Allison Hughes, Arun Ivatury and Eric Maring led this experience, called (un)choir.
Hughes said over half the people that attended Tuesday night are (un)choir regulars.
Sandra Quinn, a professor at the university’s School of Public Health, attended five previous (un)choir sessions. “I come because it’s just sheer joy at the end of the day when I’m tired, like tonight. To come and just be able to sing out is a great pleasure,” she said.
Everyone warmed up by singing the melody of “Hallelujah” together. Printed lyric sheets in hand, attendees, one by one, joined Hughes and Ivatury on the microphones and Maring on the guitar.
As the night progressed, Hughes and Ivatury split up the crowd and taught 2 and 3-part harmonies to the different groups for less than an hour.
The group ran through the verses multiple times, sounding like a traditional choir that practiced for maybe days.
“It was my inspiration to start something like this in our area, and Arun and Eric were totally on board from the very beginning,” Hughes said.
Hughes is the director of the College Park Chorale, a 60-member community choir founded as a College Park Arts Exchange program. She is also a member of the Paint Branch Creek band, along with Ivatury, Maring and two others.
“I’ve been a singer my whole life. My focus these days is really on just getting people engaged in singing,” she said.
There have been over 10 (un)choir sessions since last September, and this was the last (un)choir of the year.
Stephen Thomas, a professor at the School of Public Health and a College Park resident, has attended (un)choir many times. “I was here for Aretha Franklin. I was here for Michael Jackson, and I’m now here for ‘Hallelujah,’” he said.
“I think this is so important to create space for faculty to come back on campus and be involved in a culture of College Park,” Thomas added.
After taking a break, the group squeezed on the slightly elevated stage in semicircle formation to perform their final version.
“I love it at the end when everybody is finally feeling secure about it and just really can get into the song,” Hughes said.
She added, “I think that the conversations you can have with a person after you’ve sung with them are different than before. Everybody takes a breath together–makes a noise together–and then you have a connection. It’s a really great way of building community and also breaking down barriers between people.”